It’s early morning at Fort Worden Battery Putnam when Port Townsend StyroCyclers volunteers carry between 500 to 700 pounds of expanded polystyrene foam (EPS) from East Jefferson County to the …
It’s early morning at Fort Worden Battery Putnam when Port Townsend StyroCyclers volunteers carry between 500 to 700 pounds of expanded polystyrene foam (EPS) from East Jefferson County to the curb to load on to OlyCAP trucks for a monthly trip to the OlyCAP warehouse.
The densely packed, yellow bags (each 20 to 25 pounds) will be transferred to a 53-foot Northwest Harvest tractor-trailer for a trip to Styro Recycle in Kent. Secure packaging is essential when transferring EPS in food trucks.
Northwest Harvest delivers food to OlyCAP in Port Townsend. Its tractor-trailer would have otherwise been traveling back to Auburn empty if it weren’t for our EPS hitching a free (and no-additional-carbon-footprint) ride.
Recently, the StyroCyclers, who have transferred over five tons of EPS since 2021, merged with Local 20/20 because we recognized compatibility with the Local 20/20 mission of “Working together to foster a regenerative, sustainable, resilient and compassionate community in Jefferson County through both action and education.” We are now a project in the Local 20/20 Beyond Waste action group.
The StyroCyclers operate out of Fort Worden’s Battery Putnam, thanks to the Fort Worden PDA. We use every cubic inch of the battery’s three rooms: one for intake and packing, one for storage of packed bags, and one for packing-peanut processing and additional packed-bag storage. Packing peanuts, collected as biodegradable versus non-biodegradable types, are provided to local businesses.
We take pride in our invisible presence at the fort, except when the heavy black metal doors are open for our recycling operations; otherwise, we leave no trace to distract from visitors’ enjoyment of the state park’s history and beauty.
Styro Recycle (which refers to us as “The Yellow Bag People”) specifies that we transfer EPS pieces that are white, rigid, clean, and dry, with all tape, labels, paper, or cardboard removed. It also accepts, and we collect, EPS food containers that are white, clean, and unstained.
At the recycler, densifier machines chop the EPS (more than 90 percent air/gases) and then use heat to convert it into a toothpaste-like flow that cools into heavy blocks. The densified polystyrene can be molded into items such as picture frames and building materials. It is in high demand because it is less expensive than virgin plastic.
We hope to get out of the EPS recycling business one day and encourage those who receive EPS packaging to request that providers switch to biodegradable packaging. In June, EPS packing peanuts and other void-filling packaging will be banned in Washington; in 2024, food containers and most non-medical coolers/boxes will be banned.
The StyroCyclers accept pre-sorted materials on the first Tuesday and third Saturday each month, 10 a.m. to noon, at Fort Worden Battery Putnam, which is very close to Alexander’s Castle (229 Alexander’s Loop). Additional collections and schedule changes are announced via Facebook. Volunteers pick up EPS at medical facilities, pharmacies, and other businesses, delivering it to Battery Putnam for packing throughout the month.
We are grateful to the Fort Worden PDA; Local 20/20; OlyCAP; Northwest Harvest; Styro Recycle, LLC; EPS and financial donors; and our many volunteers for making our work possible.
Contact us at PTStyroCyclers@gmail.com and/or access us at facebook.com/PortTownsendStyrofoam.
(Polly Lyle is a retired pharmaceutical research scientist who has lived in Port Townsend for 16 years, and is a member of the Local 20/20 Beyond Waste action group.)